Stage set for another battle under the scorching sun. Decisive competition in the season's first half. Don't miss the action in this sole overseas race!
Rd.3 SEPANG : Preview
The third round of the 2012 SUPER GT series takes place on June 9 and 10 at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. Lying near the equator, the scorching tropical sun at Sepang puts a hot and heavy burden on both the drivers and the machines. But, in this competition that determines the first half of the title race, the drive and determination of the teams is sure to be as intense as the heat.
Can SC430 overcome its Sepang jinx and make it three straight wins on the season?
The 2012 season has started with consecutive wins for the Lexus SC430, with the No. 38 ZENT CERUMO SC430 (Yuji Tachikawa/Kohei Hirate) triumphing in round one at Okayama and the No. 39 DENSO KOBELCO SC430 (Juichi Wakisaka /Hiroaki Ishiura) taking the victory in round two at Fuji Speedway. The SC430 camp would like to keep that momentum going in round three, but the Lexus has always performed poorly on the Sepang circuit. Since the car's debut in 2006 it has never won at Sepang, and even going back to the previous Toyota Supra, the maker's score in Malaysia stands at a miserable one win to nine losses (official series races only).
Clearly the Sepang course is one that favors cornering performance, but this year's SC430 is proving to be a tough machine to beat. If some upsets occur and the race comes down to a one-on-one contest, the Lexus may come out the winner. For the round two winning No. 39 LEXUS TEAM SARD, the Sepang course has given them some good results. Also, for the No. 36 PETRONAS TOM'S SC430 (Kazuki Nakajima/Loic Duval) with its Malaysian sponsor, this is their home course. With these three teams looking for a win, this year's Sepang race may be different from past contests.
A course that favors the HSV-010 GT?
Few doubt that SUPER GT's hottest cornering machine, the Honda HSV-010 GT, has an advantage at Sepang. Last year, the Weider HSV-010 turned that advantage into a win here, and from NSX era the Honda machines have always been top contenders on this track. The No. 18 Weider HSV-010 (Takashi Kogure/Carlo Van Dam) has yet to get a result worthy of its potential this season, so the team is sure to be looking to break open the race on this track that has been good to them in the past. Another machine to keep your eyes on is the No. 100 RAYBRRIG HSV-010 (Takuya Izawa/Naoki Yamamoto) that leads the point ranking thus far this season. Though they carry a heavy weight handicap this time, the two young drivers certainly won't let that hold them back, so expect a strong showing from them too.
As for the Nissan GT-R machines, they have been performing well this season but haven't been able to leverage that performance into a win as yet. With its excellent braking performance and its unrivaled strength in the heat, the GT-R has always done well at Sepang. Before losing to the HSV-010 GT here last year, the Nissan had a record of three straight wins at Sepang (four straight if you count in the Fairlady Z).
All four of the GT-Rs entered this year can be considered contenders for the win, but keep your eyes especially on the No. 12 CALSONIC IMPUL GT-R (Tsugio Matsuda/Joao Paulo de Oliveira) that looks for reconciliation after coming so close to a win in round two, and the No. 24 D'station ADVAN GT-R (Hironobu Yasuda/Bjorn Wirdheim) team that has two previous wins at Sepang.
The tropical heat is always a big factor at Sepang, but another potential threat is the frequent squalls that can pour down heavy rain for 20 to 30 minutes in tropical climates like this. One of these squalls can wreak havoc and turn the race around in an instant, and even in the free practice one can disrupt attempts to collect vital data and put some teams at a disadvantage. That is when the entire team, from the drivers and manager to the engineers and mechanics have to work extra hard to put together a strong race effort. This is a chance for the fans to see the true grit and overall strength of a team.
It's a closely matched free-for-all in the GT300 class
Taking the early lead in the 2012 GT300 class title race is last year's champion team, the No. 0 GSR HATSUNEMIKU BMW (Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka) fresh off a win in the previous round, and the opening round winner and last year's 2nd ranked No. 11 GAINER DIXCEL R8 LMS (Tetsuya Tanaka/Katsuyuki Hiranaka). For the No. 0 GSR HATSUNEMIKU BMW, the Sepang course has been a good one for the team, bringing them their first victory here last year. But, don't forget that the No. 11 GAINER DIXCEL R8 LMS finished a very close 2nd to the BMW here last year. It might be a natural assumption that these two teams will be the top contenders again this year, but they will both be carrying a heavy load of handicap weights that will hamper their chances of winning.
Of course, neither their rivals nor the fans will be content to see these two teams run away unchallenged. What everyone is anxious to see now is what other teams will come forward to put the challenge to them. One that looks to be competitive is the No. 66 triple a Vantage GT3 (Hiroki Yoshimoto/Kazuki Hoshino) team that rolled out a new GT3 machine at the last round and finished 3rd with hardly any test results to work on. Everyone was impressed by their speed in that debut race and many see a potential win for them here at Sepang. Also, don't take your eyes off the Porsche teams No. 33 HANKOOK PORSCHE (Masami Kageyama/Tomonobu Fujii) and No. 911 ENDLESS TAISAN 911 (Kyosuke Mineo/Naoki Yokomizo) and the Lamborghini teams led by the No. 88 JLOC LAMBORGHINI GT3 (Koji Yamanishi/Hideki Yamauchi).
All of these teams mentioned above are racing with FIA GT3 spec machines. It is clear that the JAF GT spec machines are having a tough time matching their speed thus far, but things could be different at Sepang. This is a course that has always been good for the No. 43 ARTA Garaiya (Shinichi Takagi/Kosuke Matsuura) and the No. 2 EVANGELION RT TEST-01 PETRONAS Shiden (Kazuho Takahashi/Hiroki Kao), and the drivers of the No. 61 SUBARU BRZ R&D SPORT (Tetsuya Yamano/Kota Sasaki) have always performed well here, so don't count them out.
The No. 69 ThunderAsia Racing team that began full-time competition in SUPER GT last season will be a spot entry this time. Based in Singapore, this team can expect to have a good number of local fans on hand, and a good performance here could spark a return to full entry in the GT series.
With its famed heat and the tough competition, the Sepang race has a reputation for coming down to dead-heat battles at the finish. We can't wait to see what the action will bring this year. The qualifying takes place on June 9th and the race roars to a start on the 10th at 16:00 (17:00 Japan time).